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Shedding holiday light on the mystery that is mistletoe

Oh, ho the mistletoe
Hung where you can see
Somebody waits for you
Kiss her once for me
 

–“A Holly Jolly Christmas” 

Even if you’ve never seen mistletoe, much less smooched beneath it, it may have been a part of your holiday tradition since childhood.

That’s because the 1964 Christmas special, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” features Burl Ives, in the voice of narrator Sam the Snowman, singing “A Holly Jolly Christmas.” All the while, prospector Yukon Cornelius hoists a tower of four elves hanging mistletoe and Rudolph gives the doe Clarice a peck on her cheek.

The poinsettia may be the most popular Christmas plant, but mistletoe seems to have the edge when it comes to appearances in Christmas songs. Everyone from Ives and Perry Como to Michael Buble and Alan Jackson has covered “A Holly Jolly Christmas.” Justin Bieber has a song titled, simply, “Mistletoe.”

For many of us, however, mistletoe is a mystery. Royer’s sells fresh poinsettias by the tens of thousand, in dozens of sizes and varieties, but a much smaller quantity of preserved mistletoe, offered in a four-inch cluster with a bow packaged in a box.

“It’s a novelty more than anything now,” said Cheryl Brill, Royer’s chief operating officer. The typical customer is a young guy.

Not to be eaten

Yet while mistletoe is associated with kissing and Christmas, its role in nature is anything but beneficent. In fact, it’s the Grinch of holiday plants, an honest-to-goodness parasite.

“Mistletoe is an evergreen pest that attaches itself to trees, plants and shrubs, stealing their nutrients and water,” a CBS News story noted. “This can weaken or disfigure the host plant, and eventually even kill it.”

The genus name for North American oak mistletoe, the most common species in the eastern United States, is “phoradendron,” which is Greek for “tree thief.”

Mistletoe is difficult to remove because its seeds sprout and grow through the bark of trees and into their tissues, extending up and down within the branches.

“The most effective way to fight it is to remove an infected branch or limb entirely,” according to CBS.

Mistletoe has a misanthropic side, too. A person eating any part of it may experience drowsiness, blurred vision, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, weakness or seizures. These symptoms are caused by phoratoxin, which can be found in mistletoe berries and especially in the leaves. (Several types of mistletoe can be poisonous to pets, too.)

“Throw in the fact that some species are poisonous, and mistletoe starts to seem less like something you’d spy mama kissing Santa under and more like something Krampus would plant on your Christmas tree,” an article on the National Geographic website noted.

Krampus is a half-goat, half-demon in folklore that punishes children who misbehave, in contrast with St. Nicholas rewarding well-behave children with gifts.

‘Mystic branch’

But in this season of giving, it seems only fair to consider mistletoe in a positive light. Because it steals water and nutrients, mistletoe stays green year-round and is a symbol of fertility to some people.

“The plant’s parasitic nature is probably why people began to think mistletoe was special enough to kiss under in the first place,” according to National Geographic.

In Europe, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute website, “mistletoe extracts are among the most prescribed therapies for cancer patients.” However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of mistletoe as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition.

Ancient Anglo-Saxons noticed that mistletoe often grows near bird droppings, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Hence, its name derived from “mistel,” which means dung, and “tan,” which means twig. Therefore, mistletoe means “dung-on-a-twig.”

Studies suggest that when certain species of mistletoe were removed from ecosystems in Australia and Mexico, birds suffered.

As it matures, mistletoe can grow into thick, often rounded masses of branches and stems that can reach as big as five feet wide and 50 pounds and sometimes called “witches’ brooms.” Some birds, including wrens, chickadees, mourning doves and pygmy nuthatches, nest in these witches brooms.

Some butterflies lay their eggs in mistletoe, their young eating the leaves and adults (and some native bees) feeding on mistletoe nectar. Mistletoe’s white berries are a no-no for people, but they are favored in the fall and winter by the likes of deer, elk, squirrels, chipmunks and porcupines.

Clearly mistletoe endures as a symbol of Christmas joy and wonder. Charles Dickens, in the “Pickwick Papers” in the 1830s, called mistletoe the “mystic branch.”

The Hallmark Channel carries on that tradition with movies bearing titles such as, “Moonlight and Mistletoe, “The Mistletoe Promise,” and “The Mistletoe Secret.”

Of course, the happy ending is always sealed with a kiss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lancaster County-grown poinsettias are arriving at Royer’s stores

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It’s two weeks before Thanksgiving, but Christmas is in full bloom at Esbenshade’s Greenhouses Inc. just north of Lititz.

In one vast expanse of the so-called Gilbert greenhouse, the floor is a carpet of red poinsettias. A visitor asks Roger Esbenshade, president of the family-owned company, how many there are in this one area.

“Probably 25,000,” he said. “This is maybe 10 percent of the crop.”

Royer’s Flowers & Gifts has been an Esbenshade’s wholesale customer for decades. Royer’s sells some 20,000 poinsettias every holiday season, most of which are grown by Esbenshade’s.

Only a week prior, Royer’s CEO Tom Royer and Geoff Royer, vice president of central operations, were at Esbenshade’s to review the poinsettia crop.

Esbenshade’s grows nine to 10 sizes and 30-some varieties. Red remains the most popular by far, but even red comes in seven or eight different varieties. The biggest plants come in 10-inch pots and grow to 25 to 30 inches in height.

Depending on the size, the growing season can range from three to five months. What are now almost fully developed plants began as two and one-half inch stems. From the end of October until mid-to-late November, the poinsettias required only watering and disease control while Esbenshade’s tended to its spring crops.

But with the holiday season here, once again poinsettias are the focus of attention.

“For me, being responsible for the growing, it’s a very challenging time,” Esbenshade said. “It’s not a difficult crop to grow, but a lot of things can go wrong.”

He lists the challenges of controlling plant height, temperature, nutrition, diseases.

“It can vary from year to year,” he said.

‘Longevity for the customer’

Timing is important. That sea of red described above arrived only four weeks earlier. All poinsettias are green until their ultimate color reveals itself. Some plants will get redder still, which dictates when they will be shipped to customers.

“We try to have good color development but not overly developed so that they have longevity for the customer,” Esbenshade said.

Wholesale customers such as Royer’s typically place master orders, or what they anticipate needing for the year. Then they draw on that order on a daily or weekly basis.

For example, Esbenshade’s will deliver to Royer’s distribution center in Lebanon on 15 dates between mid-November and mid-December.

Esbenshade’s has approximately 30 workers tending to poinsettias at this busy time. When orders arrive, the workers wrap individual plants in plastic sleeves and place them in corrugated boxes for shipping via trucks.

The plants that are on the floor receive water and nutrients from below. Water rises to a depth of two inches through holes in what are called flood floors. Once the plants have absorbed what they need, the water level lowers and excess moisture drains from the pots.

If cared for properly, poinsettias can last for months if not years. They will cycle back to green in the off-season.

Esbenshade’s mother, Nancy, founded the company with her husband, Lamar, in 1960.

“My mom, she usually has hers up till Easter,” Esbenshade said. “I think most people don’t do that. She’ll usually send me pictures around Easter time and say, ‘My poinsettias still look good.’ ”

No matter how long you plan to keep your poinsettias, they’re vibrant and abundant at Royer’s now through Christmas.

Highlights from our fall catalog

Every year, we introduce a fall catalog that contains approximately 20 percent new products. We asked Geoff Royer, Royer’s area manager and a member of the product development team, to describe how some of the new arrangements came about. Here’s what he told us:

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One of the tasks of the product development team was to come up with more arrangements that are specific to birthdays. This arrangement does just that with the birthday bear that’s attached to the vase.

This is the fourth in our lineup of Big Hugs vases. We also have redesigned the baby boy and baby girl versions of that style.

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We realized in the spring that we could do better on the pricing of the mini callas than we had before so we opted to develop a few arrangements with them.

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This collection of arrangements is a new style for us, each one in a nine-inch glass bowl that we’d never carried before. We used them in some new lifestyle shots we are using to enhance our brochure and websites.

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This addition features several flowers that are new to us, namely the Memphis daisy pom, charmellia alstromeria, and Nobbio cherry carnation.

We had featured Memphis at previous holidays. We loved the color and the lateral lengths on the daisy but no one grew it year-round until now.

Charmellia is a new product in the floral world. It lasts incredibly long and, as it opens, it changes from dark pink to a lighter pink.

The colors and variegation of the Nobbio cherry petals are like nothing we’d ever seen. This carnation is from a farm called Geoflora, which is associated with South American carnation breeder S.B. Talee.

Talee developed the Nobbio series in response to a Japanese market that wanted something beyond the standard red, white and pink combination with a longer stem length. We can take the sizes the Japanese markets don’t want at a good price.

Oh, Atlanta, we hear you calling

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We don’t procrastinate when it comes to holiday shopping. In fact, no sooner is one Christmas in the rearview mirror than we start planning for the next one.

It’s not that we’re eager for the passage of time. Rather, we’re beckoned by AmericasMart in Atlanta, which describes itself as the nation’s leading gift, home furnishings and area rug wholesale marketplace.

In Atlanta, we might purchase containers bearing a Christmas decoration, or snowflake or snowman stick-ins to complement an arrangement. We source Christmas décor at AmericasMart but also gifts that customers will give at the holidays, such as a picture frame.

A half-dozen Royer’s representatives visit AmericasMart’s three-building, 7 million-square-foot complex every January, buying gifts and arrangement accents for the next Christmas season, and again in July, when the focus will be on the next spring.

Focus on larger gifts

Jenni Eberly, Royer’s market manager, has made six trips to Atlanta, so she’s a veteran now. But as a first-time visitor, she found the experience daunting.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said, “looking at all that merchandise set out in the displays. Because then you have to take these huge displays and then pick out what you’re going to buy.”

As vast as AmericasMart is, Royer’s spends most of its time on five floral and holiday floors. In July, the group arrived in Atlanta on a Wednesday and worked through Friday. The pace is constant, and even lunch and dinner conversation turns to what each of them has seen from vendors.

Geoff Royer, whose great-grandparents started Royer’s, coordinates the Atlanta trips. He sets up meetings with specific vendors. He also arms each member of the Royer’s delegation with a folder that identifies, by holiday, items on their shopping list.

The needs range from broad to specific. In January, some of the focus was on larger gifts, such as clocks, afghans and pillows that are relatively new for Royer’s. In July, one of the goals was to find new versions of a heart stick-in and accent ribbon to give a new look to an existing arrangement.

Erica Bixby, Royer’s store manager in Lebanon, has been to Atlanta three times. With experience, she has learned to think beyond the initial appeal of new products to identify how they will work in Royer’s stores.

How will they complement other items, and will they work given the price at which they will have to sell, including once freight costs are factored in?

Something might look nice, Erica suggested, “but you can’t really sell it for $50.”

Moments of inspiration

Technology has made it easier to document the trips. Photos taken with a tablet or smart phone are invaluable for jogging memories. After all, Christmas giftware purchased in January won’t arrive until summer or fall.

Photos also capture moments of inspiration.

“I have a bunch of things that I liked for silks,” Erica said, with an eye toward Royer’s crafting similar arrangements in-house rather than buying them already made.

“Or I take pictures of displays that I’d like to duplicate in the stores,” Jenni added.

On her phone, Jenni pulled up a photo showing how one vendor used eye hooks and ropes to display pillows.

“It’s up, it’s still in the display, but it’s out of the way,” Jenni said, noting that pillows are vulnerable in a flower shop, where the need to water plants is constant.

One week after returning from the July trip, Erica and Jenni were in Royer’s central design department in Lebanon. Looking around them, at tables filled with arrangements being created or revamped for fall debuts, they estimated that 30 percent of the items were from Atlanta.

“That container, that container, that container,” Jenni said, pointing at specific arrangements. “That vase. Those deer [figures]. Those are all things that we picked up in January.”

Plants and pets: know the facts to keep dogs and cats healthy

No plant says Christmas quite like the poinsettia. But nary a holiday season goes by without poinsettias being negatively associated with pet health.

Yet the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says poinsettias “may be the most misrepresented plant when it comes to toxicity. Since 1919 poinsettias have been called lethal if ingested by pets. However, many animal studies have shown that it is just not true.”

Relatively few plant and flower species are dangerous to pets, and the effects can range widely.

As the ASPCA notes, poinsettias and other holiday plants are not good for pets to ingest, potentially irritating the mouth and stomach and sometimes causing vomiting, but generally are “over-rated in toxicity.”

The same can’t be said about lilies and cats. Eating just a couple of leaves or licking a few pollen grains off their fur can quickly cause kidney failure, according to CBS News.

“A cat that’s eaten part of a lily will vomit soon afterwards, but this may gradually lessen after two to four hours. Within 12 to 24 hours, the cat may start to urinate frequently. Urination may then stop if kidney failure occurs. If untreated, a cat will die within four to seven days after eating a lily.”

This is the case for any true lily — belonging to the plant genus Lilium — including Easter lily, tiger lily, rubrum lily, Japanese show lily and certain species of daylily.

In contrast, the calla lily, peace lily, lily of the valley and Peruvian lily (alstroemeria) are not true lilies and won’t cause kidney failure in cats although they have other toxic principles, according to the Pet Poison Helpline.

If you love plants and pets, then it’s a good idea to consider which ones are the best fit for your home. Here are several resources:

The ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center offers an exhaustive, sortable list of plants that are toxic or non-toxic to dogs and cats. The list focuses on plants “that have been reported as having systemic effects on animals and/or intense effects on the gastrointestinal tract,” according to the ASPCA, which cautions that the list is not meant to be all-inclusive.

If you think your animal is ill or may have ingested a poisonous substance, the ASPCA suggests contacting your veterinarian or its 24-hour emergency poison hotline at 1-888-426-4435.

The Humane Society offers an informative — and highly alliterative — list of “plants potentially poisonous to pets.”

The Pet Poison Helpline offers its Top 10 Plants Poisonous to Pets.

Of course, as the Pet Poison Helpline notes:

“While there are thousands of species of plants and flowers, only a small percentage of plants are truly dangerous and poisonous to your pet.”

Terrariums back on the job — and perfect for the office

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Entire TV shows these days are dedicated to tiny houses, so perhaps it should come as little surprise that mini-gardens are popular again.

Royer’s recently reintroduced terrariums to its product lineup. They are individually crafted in our dish garden department in Lebanon and come in rope; dome (small, medium and large); and greenhouse versions.

“You look in them, and you just feel good,” said Cheryl Brill, Royer’s vice president of retail operations, comparing the look of the light-green reindeer moss covering the soil to that of a forest floor.

She described terrariums as a “little tranquil spot.”

“They draw you in,” she said, “and I think that’s part of the appeal. And they typically have a lot of texture.”

Growing plants in transparent containers dates to Greece at least 2,500 years ago, according to University of Missouri Extension. The practice in the United States is traced to New England.

“The invention of the terrarium as we know it is credited to Dr. N.B. Ward, a 19th-century London physician. … While studying a sphinx moth emerging from a chrysalis he had buried in moist earth in a closed bottle, he was amazed to see a seedling fern and some grass growing inside. He watched them grow for four years, during which time not one drop of water was added nor was the cover removed.”

Closed terrariums are best at keeping humidity inside (followed by open terrariums and dish gardens), so they only have to be watered once per week. Terrariums and plants are great for offices as they are known to improve air quality, boost productivity and reduce stress.

 

Magnetic ceramic pot + hardy plant = minimal care

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Talk about having magnetic personality.

LiveTrends Design Group has come out with what the Florida-based company calls “magnetic living art,” pairing non-scratching magnetic ceramic pots with hardy plants that require minimal care.

“Water once a month and display anywhere,” according to LiveTrends.

How about sticking one on your refrigerator at home or on a filing cabinet at work?

A pot would make a great Administrative Professionals Day gift or end-of-school year present for a teacher or bus driver. Plenty of customers are buying pots for themselves, which is OK, too.

The pots (each one fits in your hand) come in multiple colors with one of two plant families: succulents or bromiliads. They retail for $8.99 each and are available in all of our stores.

LiveTrends has only been around for a few years. Bisser Georgiev started the company after 20 years with Hermann Engelmann Greenhouses, a leader in the indoor houseplant industry.

Of his new venture, Georgiev said: “I want to see it as a playground more than just a company.”

Who wouldn’t want to play with one of these fun magnetic pots?

Introducing your rewards program: Petal Perks

Research shows the emotional and behavioral benefits associated with flowers and plants. Having them around your home or office is a great way to keep your spirits bright as daylight dwindles.

Petal Perks card

You’ll get another lift from our new customer rewards program: Petal Perks.

We included Petal Perks cards in our fall catalog. If you didn’t receive one, you can pick one up at any of our stores.

With Petal Perks, customers earn one point for each penny they spend and 300 points for each order they place: every 15,000 points earns a $5 discount on a future purchase.

Petal Perks applies to all purchases, whether made in store, online or on the phone. What’s more, points don’t expire as long as you make at least two purchases annually.

Here you’ll find complete details about Petal Perks.

So with winter fast approaching, be sure to keep plenty of flowers and plants around. They’ll help you perk up, and you can get the most out of Petal Perks.

5 things you should know about caring for annual plants

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So you bought annual plants in a container at your local florist, garden center or home-improvement store.

Annual plants – such as petunias, geraniums and begonias that complete their life cycles in one year – pose perennial challenges once you bring them home.

Here are five things you should know about caring for your annuals:

1. You have to add nutrients: Your plant didn’t come in nutrient-rich soil. Rather, it’s a potting mix that includes peat moss. This mixture is inert, meaning that it doesn’t contain the nutrients found in soil. So you have to add the nutrients by applying fertilizer on a regular basis.

2. Fertilizer is soluble, so you have to keep adding it: Regular watering of your annual plants will wash out the added nutrients if the container has drainage holes on the bottom.

3. Don’t add too much fertilizer: One of the ingredients in fertilizer is salt. Too much fertilizer – and with it, too much salt – can damage plant roots. The salt in the fertilizer will remove whatever moisture is left in the roots and burn them.

4. Cut the amount in half: Whatever dosage the fertilizer manufacturer recommends, consider cutting the amount in half and fertilizing every time you water. This way you have less of a chance of burning the roots, and your plant gets a continual supply of nutrients rather than peaks and valleys.

5. Give them a pinch: Remove the old blooms and pinch a plant’s tips, which will force out new growth. An occasional light trim will keep a plant bushy and blooming.

With proper care, your annual plants will bloom beautifully for you this summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 houseplants that will improve your indoor air quality

Spider plant
Spider plant

For all of its exploration of the galaxy, the space program has accrued many benefits right here on earth. Thanks to NASA, we know that houseplants can purify the air in our homes and workplaces.

NASA originally focused on finding ways to purify the air in orbiting space stations. A 1973 space mission identified 107 volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that were emitted by the synthetic materials inside the spacecraft. It was clear that tightly sealed buildings, whether orbiting in space or on the ground, could cause health problems.

Sick building syndrome

Back on earth, spurred by the energy crisis of the 1970s, the building industry focused on making old and new structures more energy efficient. Without intending to, they also paved the way for trapping pollutants – or what is often called “sick building syndrome.”

Three of the pollutants found in spacecraft – benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene – also are present in homes and offices, emitted by everything from building materials to furnishings to office equipment. Air-tight buildings conserve energy and reduce heating and cooling costs, but they also trap these pollutants.

NASA found that certain houseplants, because they are good at absorbing gases, could remove indoor pollutants. Researchers suggested using one potted plant per 100 square feet of home or office space to improve indoor air quality. One study found that philodendron, spider plant and golden pothos removed 80 percent of the formaldehyde that was introduced into a sealed chamber.

If you want to improve the air quality of your space, you might consider bringing home some of these commonly recommended plants:

1. Heartleaf philodendron
2. Elephant ear philodendron
3. Cornstalk dracaena
4. English ivy
5. Spider plant
6. Janet Craig dracaena
7.Warneckii dracaena
8.Weeping fig
9. Golden pothos
10. Peace lily
11. Selloum philodendron
12. Chinese evergreen
13. Bamboo or reed palm
14. Snake plant
15. Red-edged dracaena

Sources: sunsethillsfoliage.com, coopext.colostate.edu